An Enemy of the People: Act 3
Summary – Act Three
This act is set in the editor’s room at the office of The Herald. One door leads to the printing office and another to the rest of the offices. There is a large table in the middle covered with books, papers and newspapers and there is a desk at the window. The room is described as ‘dingy and cheerless’. Hovstad is sat at the desk writing when Billing enters with Thomas’s manuscript.
Hovstad asks if he thinks Doctor Stockmann is a hard hitter and Billing agrees that he thinks he is and says ‘every word falls like – like a sledge hammer’. Hovstad says it will take more than this ‘to knock these fellows out’ and Billing agrees but says as he read the article he could ‘almost hear the first faint rumblings of revolution’. Hovstad tells him to not let Aslaksen hear him talk like that.
Hovstad then talks of how they will be able to make the most of this situation whether the Mayor gives way or not and every day will show how incompetent the Mayor is. He also wants to use the paper to insist the town council and other responsible positions should be filled ‘by men of more liberal ideas’.
They stop talking when there is a knock on the door, and Thomas enters. He tells them they may go to press and says it is ‘open war’. He adds that this is only the beginning and has thought of four or five more articles and asks where is Aslaksen. Aslaksen appears and Hovstad says how people will be on Thomas’s side when they read the article and Aslaksen says they may venture to print it.
Thomas tells them how he has been expected to humble himself today and to ‘grovel to expediency’ and says from now on The Herald will be his artillery to bombard them with his articles. He says he will crush them, and Aslaksen cautions him to take care and says how this must be done with moderation.
Thomas says that ‘all the old bunglers’ have to go and their ‘so-called revolution’ will be launched smoothly if they stand together. Aslaksen says again about moderation and Thomas says he does not care about danger as he is doing this for truth and his conscience. Aslaksen calls him ‘a real friend of the community’ and Billing says he is a ‘friend of the people’. Thomas is touched and grasps their hands and asks again that they take care with his article.
When Thomas leaves, Aslaksen says he will be of use if he confines himself to the matter of the Baths and Billing accuses him of being too scared of things. Aslaksen argues he is just practical. He says governments can be attacked as much as he wishes, but local authorities can be ‘turned out’ and a more ignorant lot could be brought in instead (which he opposes). Hovstad asks what he thinks of ‘the progressive education of the citizen in civic responsibilities’. Aslaksen says a man cannot think of everything when he has ‘solid interests to protect’ and that a politician should never be too sure of anything. He then says to Billing that he should be more moderate given that he has applied for the post of general secretary to the town council. Billing admits to this and says to Hovstad that he has only done this to annoy them.
Aslaksen moves on from this subject to repeat how he favors moderation and although his heart is with the man in the street, he also has a little sympathy for the authorities. When he leaves the room, Billing asks if it is not time they tried to get rid of him and Hovstad points out how nobody else would pay their paper and printing bills. Billing suggests Dr Stockmann (Thomas) could do this, and says his father-in-law is behind him and is sure to have money too. Hovstad tells him to not count on this or the secretaryship either.
After Billing leaves the room, Petra enters and tells Hovstad she cannot translate the story and gives it back to him. She says he cannot use it in The Herald (and he has not read it yet) as it contradicts his principles. It takes the view of ‘kindly Providence’ and how bad people are punished. He says the public would like this, though, and an editor has to indulge the readers’ ‘weaknesses’ sometimes. He also says publishing this story would create confidence. She tells him he ought to be ashamed of himself and accuses him of being a hypocrite.
Analysis – Act Three
In this section, Thomas finds he has support of the press but as Petra discovers the morality of these men is seen to be questionable. While at this point Thomas still believes Hovstad and Aslaksen are representative of a free press, Petra recognizes shortly after that Hovstad is prepared to indulge what he sees as the ‘weaknesses’ of his readers despite his political views. She remarks on his hypocrisy and this becomes more visible as the play moves on.